Tuesday, May 04, 2010


My grandparents (my Dad's parents) used to live on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

They were a block from the white sand beaches near Gulfport and Biloxi. We'd drive along the coast, make a left by the gas station, a right on their street, and they were at the very end of the dead end street, a low white brick house with a large lot and gardens that were absolute heaven.

In 1967 or so they had completely remodeled their house, making it a showplace for my grandmother's amazing collection of antiques and ephemera from SE Asia and the middle East (where my dad's family traveled extensively in the early to mid 60's) and my grandfather's family heirlooms. My grandfather (Opi) was largely deaf, and never used the phone, but when the house was finished, he called my parents and shouted "The house is ready, come visit" down the phone and then hung up.

Hurricane Camille struck a couple months later and destroyed everything.

As a kid my dad would pile me and my brother and my mom and various dogs and whatnot into some strange collectible French car (with a 50% chance of a breakdown and much cursing by Dad on the way) and drive us all from Houston across Louisiana to Mississippi to visit Omi and Opi. We'd usually go at Easter and Thanksgiving. It was an 8 hour drive, which my brother and I made sure to count for the whole way. "ARE WE THERE YET? WHEN ARE WE THERE? CAN WE STOP AT STUCKEY'S? HEY, I SEE MISSISSIPPI TREES!" I am pretty sure we were a nightmare to travel with.

Those visits to my grandparents were always a magical time. Omi and Opi lived in a low white brick house that they rebuilt after Camille, with an all white interior, on which floated the amazing collection of SE Asian art and artifacts that they had collected in their travels. Or, I should say, the collection that made it through Camille. Everything was a bit dinged, dented or water damaged. But the artistry and quality of it all shone through. Buddhas, big gold ones, ancient, elegant, wooden, with some of the gold peeling off. Scary wall monsters as art. 18th century French influenced furniture mied with tansu chests and Indian and South American altar pieces. Very simple low furniture. A HUGE Kirman Shah carpet, an old family heirloom, painstakingly cleaned after Camille and proudly placed on the floor where NO ONE was allowed to walk on it (even the dog was trained to avoid The Carpet. Everyone in the family still avoids walking on the carpet, even now. We all skirt it, fearing the Wrath of Omi's ghost.)

But even better than the house? The garden. They had a big double lot. Omi and Opi were gardeners, of the Japanese style. There were ponds with goldfish that Opi let me feed Quaker oats to, and fountains and little streams and pagodas and a tea house and camellias and azeleas and beautiful flowering trees and plants of every description. Iris and lilies and roses and a big banana tree and little statues of buddhas and giant pine trees. Opi even invented new strains of camellias and their yard was feature in Southern Homes and Living. My brother and I used to run around the perfectly manicured grass pathways among the garden beds in the twilight, with flashlights and voices raised, chasing each other and hiding among the flowers.

It was a magical place. Magical, beautiful and so very elegant and perfect. So very descriptive of my grandparents and their life together. Opi and his gardens and Omi with her amazing eye for design and color.

So today I went on to Google maps and looked up where my grandparents house was. With all the news of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and all, I wanted to follow the path of where they think the oil will hit.

I hadn't had the balls to check it out since Katrina, as I knew it probably wasn't good. I was right.

The house is gone. The gardens are gone. (Where that little round loop in the street is? That's where their house was.) The trees are gone. The ponds are gone. The garden shed is gone.

It's all gone.

I'm crying as I write this, I guess because even though I knew in my brain it was probably gone, it hadn't hit my heart yet.

And now I know. It's gone. All we've got are the memories and the pictures to remind us.

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